Journey to the Center of the Earth

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1880, Professor Sir Oliver Lindenbrook (James Mason), a geologist at the University of Edinburgh, is given a piece of volcanic rock by his admiring student, Alec McEwan (Pat Boone). Deciding that the rock is unusually heavy, Lindenbrook, mostly thanks to the carelessness of his lab assistant, Mr. Paisley (Ben Wright), discovers a plumb bob inside bearing a cryptic inscription. Lindenbrook and Alec discover that it was left by a scientist named Arne Saknussemm, who had, almost 300 years earlier, found a passage to the center of the Earth. After translating the message, Lindenbrook immediately sets off with Alec to follow in the Icelandic pioneer’s footsteps.

Professor Göteborg of Stockholm (Ivan Triesault), upon receiving correspondence from Lindenbrook regarding the nature of the message, opts to try to reach the Earth’s center first. Lindenbrook and McEwan chase him to Iceland. There, Göteborg and his assistant kidnap and imprison them in a cellar. They are freed by an athletic Icelander, Hans Bjelke (Pétur Ronson), and his pet duck Gertrud. They find Göteborg dead in his room at an inn. Lindenbrook finds some potassium cyanide crystals in Göteborg’s goatee and concludes that he has been killed.

Göteborg’s widow, Carla (Arlene Dahl), who initially believed Lindenbrook was trying to capitalize on the work of her deceased husband, learns the truth from her husband’s diary. She provides the equipment and supplies Göteborg had gathered, including much sought after Ruhmkorff lamps, but only on condition that she go along. Lindenbrook grudgingly agrees, and the four explorers and the pet duck are soon journeying into the Earth.

They are aided by marks left by Arne Saknussemm showing the path he took 300 years before. However, they are not alone. Count Saknussemm (Thayer David) thinks that, as Arne Saknussemm’s descendent, only he has the right to be there. He trails the group secretly with his servant. When Alec becomes separated from the others, he almost trips over Saknussemm’s dead servant. When Alec refuses to be his replacement, Saknussemm shoots Alec in the arm. Lindenbrook locates Saknussemm from the reverberations of the sound of the shot, and sentences him to death. However, no one is willing to execute him, so they reluctantly take him along.

The explorers eventually come upon a subterranean ocean. They construct a raft from the stems of giant mushrooms to cross it but, not before narrowly escaping a family of dimetrodons. Their raft begins circling in a mid-ocean whirlpool. The professor deduces that this must be the center of the Earth because the magnetic forces from north and south meeting there are strong enough to snatch away even gold in the form of wedding rings and tooth fillings. Completely exhausted, they reach the opposite shore.

While the others are asleep, a hungry Saknussemm catches and eats Gertrud the duck. When Hans finds out, he rushes at the count, but is pulled off by Lindenbrook and McEwan. Reeling back, Saknussemm loosens a column of stones and is buried beneath them. Right behind the collapse, the group comes upon the sunken city of Atlantis. They also find the remains of Arne Saknussemm. The hand of his skeleton points toward a passage to the surface. They decide that they will have to break a giant rock blocking their way using gunpowder left by Saknussemm. This awakens a giant lizard that attacks them, but it is killed by released lava. They climb into a large sacrificial altar bowl which floats atop the lava to the passage, and are driven upward at great speed by the lava, reaching the surface through a volcanic shaft. Lindenbrook, Carla and Hans are thrown into the sea, while Alec lands naked in a tree in the orchard of a nunnery.

When they return to Edinburgh, they are hailed as national heroes. Lindenbrook, however, declines the accolades showered upon him, stating that he has no proof of his experiences, but he encourages others to follow in their footsteps. Alec marries Lindenbrook’s niece Jenny (Diane Baker), and Lindenbrook and Carla, having fallen in love, ki


A few years back, Journey to the Center of the Earth was remade into a 3D joke of a film. Even worse, there was a sequel which had Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson doing the “peck pop of love.” Needless to say, I think it is time that I went back to the original, if for no other reason to than to regain the respect for Jules Verne’s great literary work.

What is this about?

Prof. Lindenbrook leads his intrepid party on an expedition to the center of the earth, via a volcano in Iceland, encountering all manner of prehistoric monsters and life-threatening hazards on the way

What did I like?

Epic journey. Just read the title of this film and tell me what you expect. That’s right, some sort of epic expedition down into the Earth’s core. For the most part, that is what we get, complete with some creatures, a water ride, and a competing scientist. This is the kind of stuff that helped define sci-fi back before there really was sci-fi, and it is still relevant and exciting today!

Duck you. I don’t believe Gertrude the duck was in the book. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe half of these characters were in the book. However, I am glad that she was added. A little bit of comic relief was needed and her presence provided it. Sure, there are those that wish she wasn’t there, but they have less of a heart than I do.

Master Herrmann. Recently, I’ve taken to studying the masterful works of maestro Bernard Herrmann. His score to this film isn’t his greatest work, but if you listen closely, you can hear some of the characteristics that served him well in other films. Not only that, but he also manages to create a mood befitting the tone of this film, which I must say is hard to do since the film is multi-faceted in what tone it wants to take.

What didn’t I like?

Ride along. For a film made in the late fifties/early sixties, the sets are quite remarkable. However, I couldn’t help but feel that this was just some elaborate amusement park ride. Perhaps this is because of the giant leaps in technology from then to now, or maybe it is because I read a review before the film that said something similar and it has been embedded in my brain ever since. Whatever the case, rather than feel like I was watching something exciting, I ended up feeling as if I was just along for the ride in some parts.

Sexist? Set in the late 1800, you can expect men’s attitudes toward women to be somewhat different from what is acceptable for the time this was released, heaven forbid we even think of today’s society where the slightest whisper of something offensive and all hell breaks loose. That’s neither here nor there, though. There are times when James Mason’s character speaks to the females in the film as if they are inferior lifeforms, which was the norm at the time, to an extent. While on the expedition under the surface of the Earth, he is polite to the widow Goteborg, but it seems as if it pained him to do so. Does this make this film sexist? I’m sure there are feminists out there who believe so, but I would say no. However, I found it odd that they left these attitudes in the film, rather than making a change, as they did with so much else from the source material.

Stop the motion. You can’t go underground without coming across a few creatures, right? I am one of the biggest proponents of stop-motion animation, so I may be a tad bit biased, but I do believe that stop-motion (preferably done by the genius that is Ray Herryhausen) would have worked best, as opposed to this live-action close up stuff that was used in its stead. For me, it wasn’t effective. There should have been a sense of fear and dread when these creatures attacked. As cheesy as some stop-motion looks, you can’t say that when Talos came to life in Jason and the Argonauts there wasn’t that sense of intense fear. That is the feeling I would have liked to have had here, but didn’t get.

As far as classic sci-fi goes, Journey to the Center of the Earth is pretty solid. However, it suffers from the fact that is take so very long to get going. That is not to mention the pretentious antagonist that is brought in for about 10 minutes and is then killed off. This is a film that I should have loved, but instead I just have a meh feeling about it. The only redeeming quality about it is the performance of the great James Mason and the unrivaled beauty of Arlene Dahl. Everything else is pretty bland, to be honest. While I won’t say stay away, it is better than the remake, I will say that this isn’t something to go out of your way to see.

3 out of 5 stars


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